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Top Five: Middle linebackers in NFL history

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announced Wednesday that he would retire at the end of this season. Where does he rank on this list of great middle/inside linebackers?

5. Patrick Willis » It might be too early to include the 49ers linebacker, but no one on this list was better in his first six years -- all Pro Bowl seasons. Willis is the only player to win the Butkus Award as a collegian (at Mississippi) and a pro.

4. Willie Lanier » The first black middle linebacker in NFL/AFL history, Lanier was named to the Pro Bowl in eight of his 11 seasons with the Chiefs and was one of the most famed practitioners of the clothesline tackle.

3. Jack Lambert »

Long and lean at 6-foot-4, 220, Lambert was the heart of Steelers teams that won four Super Bowls. He made the Pro Bowl nine times in his 11 seasons and was on the NFL all-decade team in both the 1970s and 1980s.

2. Mike Singletary » From 1981 to 1992, he was the intense, signature player of the great defenses of the Bears. Singletary was defensive player of the year twice (1985, 1988) and made the Pro Bowl in 10 of his 12 seasons.

1. Dick Butkus » The two-time NFL defensive player of the year made the Pro Bowl in eight of his nine years in a career cut short by multiple knee injuries. He played with a distinctive feisty style that made him a drawing card despite the Bears' lack of success.

- Kevin Dunleavy